A further relaxation of Covid controls across Scotland is likely to be pushed back by three weeks, Nicola Sturgeon has said, meaning that the next significant easing could coincide with England on 19 July after Boris Johnson announced a four-week delay on Monday.
But Scotland’s first minister denied that restrictions would remain in place until September, after the country’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, warned that the Delta variant had pushed back the timetable by up to 10 weeks.
Sturgeon told the Holyrood chamber on Tuesday afternoon that the planned easing of restrictions on 28 June would be paused “in all probability” to allow more people to be vaccinated.
“We need to buy sufficient time for vaccination to get ahead and stay ahead of the virus, and that is the reason for caution at this juncture,” she said.
Sturgeon said her government was “doing all we can as quickly as we can” to fully vaccinate the adult population, and also making preparations for the possible vaccination of 12-17-year-olds as well as potential booster vaccinations in the autumn, depending on the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
With the country’s mainland council areas expected to remain in either level one or level two, Sturgeon added that her government would consider more minor interim changes: “I am aware that – as restrictions have eased – perceived anomalies have arisen, and I understand how frustrating that can be, even though there will be a rational explanation for what may appear to be contradictory.”
She was later challenged by Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie about why nursery graduations and school sports days were cancelled while thousands of football fans can congregate at Glasgow’s Euro 2020 fan zone with alcohol and no mandatory testing. “The lack of logic and consistency in the rules is causing confusion and upset,” said Baillie. Sturgeon stressed that she had asked her advisers to reassess the guidance for nurseries and schools but that concerns remained the same.
Sturgeon also said that next week the Scottish government will publish a paper setting out a route map “beyond level 0” as well as the outcome of its review of physical distancing, which would offer future guidance for hospitality and arts venues.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, the finance ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wrote jointly to the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, calling for an urgent meeting to discuss a range of recovery issues, including the continuation of furlough.
The Welsh government is expected to announce later this week whether it will relax the rules on people meeting inside each other’s homes, while 21 June is still expected to see relaxation of rules on indoor mixing in Northern Ireland.
On Monday Boris Johnson halted the final easing of lockdown restrictions in England and ordered a four-week delay to speed up the vaccination programme.